September 17, 2016 is International Red Panda Day. The day aims to highlight the plight of this beautiful species in the wild and to harness support for the global conservation efforts working to protect and save it.
Listed on the IUCN Red List as endangered, its populations have declined by 50% over the last 18 years and are sadly continuing to decline.
Two subspecies of red panda exist. One, Ailurus fulgens fulgens, is found in Nepal, parts of northern India, Bhutan and parts of China. The other, Ailurus fulgens styani, is found exclusively in China and northern Myanmar (Burma). The red panda feeds almost entirely on bamboo and although its range stretches for thousands of miles across several Asian countries, it is only in small, niche pockets within this range where the bamboo is found, that the red panda can survive.
The way to protect the red panda is to conserve its small, specialised habitat. Forest degradation is taking its toll on the bamboo areas. The reduced ability for soil to retain water after trees are felled means moisture is not there to support new plant growth and existing bamboo vegetation is being destroyed by the logging process. There is also a threat to red panda numbers from the distemper virus, a disease spread by owned and feral domestic dogs, from capture for the pet trade and from human encroachment into rural areas.
Red panda conservation projects are working to form protected corridors of habitat and gaining the involvement of local communities, offering education on the red panda and using their help to monitor populations and habitats.
Image © Mathias Appel (CC0), via Wikimedia Commons